Don't Get Used to It. Get Good at It.

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, June 1999

Don't Get Used to It. Get Good at It.

Falling happens, but it doesn't have to hurt
Good balance is essential, sure, but as spectacularly demonstrated by the likes of Hermann Maier, even the best athletes crash and burn. Think of falling not as a failure, but an inevitability, a sign that you're pushing yourself. That's not to say it has to hurt—at least not badly. Just ask Vern Brekke. As one of only ten fifth-degree jujitsu black belts in the American Judo and Jujitsu Federation, Brekke has thoroughly mastered falling, a skill (calledukemi) that's central to his martial art. And yes, it is a skill. "I've seen jujitsu guys fall off ladders and walk away fine," he says. "The techniques pay off." Whether you ride, skate, run trails, or simply work in high places, the best way to hone your ukemi may be to take a few weeks of jujitsu. Short of that, practice Brekke's falling methods on a thick mat.

Use Your Hands. They're crucial to saving your bacon—so long as you employ them correctly. "The natural tendency is to jam your arms straight into the ground," says Brekke. "But that'll hurt your elbow or your shoulder." The key? Flex your elbows and slap the dirt with your palms to ease the impact.

Roll with It. If you become airborne, turn your body into a hoop. "Pretty much anywhere there's a protruding point is where you're going to damage yourself," says Brekke. But don't try a simple somersault, which can bang up your spine. Instead, tuck your chin into the ground-bound shoulder to initiate what Brekke calls a diagonal roll and sacrifice more durable body parts.

Share the Welts.The lone exception to the previous rule applies when you find yourself in a "flat fall"—the kind where you hit like a fly swatter—perhaps after attempting an ill-advised hockey stop on in-line skates. In that case, Brekke says, spread your arms and legs in the manner of your most daring belly flop to disperse the shock.

Hang Loose. Sure, you say, but how? First, a slippery concept called controlled abandon can help. "You have to both commit to the techniques and abandon yourself," explains Brekke. "The worst thing you can do is try to stop yourself halfway through a fall." Second, yell, and yell loudly. Doing so forces you to exhale, which helps you relax and thus guides your digger toward just the right amount of panache.—CRISTINA OPDAHL

Mind Over Muscle
The new thinking in exercise? Thinking makes it so.

Imagining yourself as Mr. Universe may be classic Homer Simpson, but recent evidence suggests that performing an exercise in your mind can increase strength. At least with the pinky abductor, the muscle that pulls the little finger away from the ring finger. In a study at England's Manchester Metropolitan University, participants who imagined themselves doing 20 little-finger extensions twice a week for four weeks experienced an average strength gain of 16 percent. The pinky, according to sports psychologist Dave Smith, who conducted the study, was chosen because it doesn't get much exercise in daily life. He says his findings, however, can be applied to any muscle group.

So it's plausible that you could get stronger while sitting in rush-hour traffic, but take note: Smith's technique requires nearly as much dedication as lifting weights. "You have to imagine all the feelings you get as if you were actually doing the exercise: the aches, your sweat, your heart rate increasing," he says. An awfully tall order for training that promises power without asking you to, well, lift a finger. —GARRETT LAI

Always Be...with Tea
A wilderness first-aid kit that transcends the Boy Scout standard

"Carry only what you need" is unquestionably the cardinal rule of backcountry travel, but what, precisely, does that mean when it comes to assembling a wilderness first-aid kit? For Eric Weiss it amounts to spiraling some duct tape around his water bottle and packing a few safety pins. But then, Weiss is author of the first-aid bible Wilderness 911 (Mountaineers Books, $16.95), founder of Adventure Medical Kits, and a trauma surgeon at Stanford University Medical Center. All of which is to say that he has no qualms about pinning a large flap of skin back to its proper anatomical place alfresco. For the rest of us, Dr. Weiss suggests toting the basics in any off-the-shelf kit—tweezers, blunt scissors, ibuprofen, moleskin, protective gloves, cloth tape, and a small amount of gauze—along with duct tape, safety pins, and the following cunning assortment of items.

  • Honey. "It's nature's Neosporin," says Weiss, "because it maintains a moist, soupy layer over a wound and facilitates new cell migration." It's also a burn salve (spread it on a bandage) and, of course, an emergency ration.
  • Super-Dent Dental Filling. A godsend for anyone who breaks a tooth or loses a filling, this paste hardens to protect exposed nerve endings. (Available from Chinook Dental Supply, 800-766-1365.)
  • Tincture of Benzoin.Use it to make adhesive bandages stick longer or to treat blisters: "Pop the blister, drain it, squirt in the benzoin, and cover with moleskin or duct tape," advises Weiss. Gross, but simple.
  • Tea Bags.We're not talking froufrou herbal varieties, but classic black. It contains tannic acid, which quells minor bleeding and swelling (moisten the bag and apply).
  • Thermometers. Carry two: a standard oral thermometer that registers up to 106 degrees, which you'll want to monitor fevers and heatstroke, and another that goes as low as 87 degrees, for hypothermia.
  • Epi-Pen. A prescription device that delivers an injection of epinephrine, crucial medicine for allergic reactions to bee stings.
  • Baking Soda. Those who aren't allergic can make this stuff into a paste to neutralize bee stings. Those who've suffered Montezuma's revenge should rehydrate with a solution of baking soda and water (a quarter teaspoon to eight ounces). The concoction isn't as tasty as Gatorade, but it works.

Call Me Bertha
Introducing an ever-reliable, ever-amiable stretching partner

Stretching is a lot like flossing your teeth. You're well versed in its numerous benefits, but it's the first thing you skip when time is short. A new piece of weight-room equipment called the Stretch Center is designed to make limbering up an integral—and effective—part of your routine. "It's like partner stretching," says Jon Giswold, author of Basic Training: A Fundamental Guide to Fitness for Men (St. Martin's, $30). "It forces you to take it more seriously."

Sure, the seven-foot-tall, four-foot-square welded steel cage is a rather cold and intimidating gym buddy. But it can isolate just about every muscle you'd care to stretch. It has a height-adjustable platform that works the hamstrings; an incline ramp (calves and gluteus maximus); a high horizontal bar (latissimus dorsi); vertical bars to twist against (deltoids, triceps, and the muscles in the upper back); two padded pegs called the "splits station" (groin); and, lest friction get in the way of any Cirque de Soleil–like contortions, a slippery vinyl floor.

Created by NewYork City–based Town Sports International (800-883-2421), the Stretch Center debuted last March at a handful of gyms in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. By the end of the year, another 75 units will be shipped. Of course, if you can't wait for your local gym to get one, you can always shell out the $2,550 it costs to have it delivered to your home.—GRANT DAVIS

ILLUSTRATIONS: David Sheldon; Robert Zimmerman
PHOTO: Irey Photography

©1999, Outside magazine

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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